Saturday, February 18, 2006

Super Monkey Ball: Touch & Roll review

My landlady has a grandchild who visits almost weekly. She (the kid, not my landlady) owns a Gameboy Advance (sans backlighting) and the last time I met her ( a few weeks ago during the holidays) she was playing a rather intriguing game.

"What's that you got there kiddo?"

"Monkey Ball!" (It's actually Monkey Ball Junior)

"Hm...I didn't know that a Gameboy Advance is capable of displaying 3D graphics? It doesn't even have a 3D engine!"

Obviously being only six, she was oblivious to my 'technical knowhow' and was only interested in a fun game.

"Look. You control the monkey and try to collect bananas..."

"What's that you say. Is it like the GameCube game?"

"What's that?" (her mum obviously did not get her a console)

"Can I have a go?"

She handed over her Gameboy Advance. I squinted at it and noticed that it was indeed 3D and it looks fab (for a GBA game). The lack of backlighting on the overscratched screen soon gave me a headache (how can she manage?) as I handed the game back to her.

"Not bad..."

Then Super Monkey Ball was ported to the DS and I didn't have to bug her all the time.

Damn, the game is difficult. But anybody who has ever played the console games will find the DS version a little easier. This is because of the touch screen support which IMO a far better method of input than an analog joypad (I hate joypads). I just finished the main game (the one where you push the monkey in the ball to the exit) and have tried the party games. Unfortunately I didn't have anybody to party (yet) with so I had to make do with playing against the CPU.

Graphically it is only slightly better than the GBA version. Sega obviously did not even bother to take full advantage of the 3D engine of the DS. I mean look at Mario Kart DS. Full 3D landscape with high quality textures with bumpy roads. On Super Monkey Ball: T&R you get flat rolling courses with very basic textures and weird psychedelic landscape.

I love the GameCube version. The monkeys were well animated and the tracks design were amazing. It was alongside
Mario Kart Double Dash, my favourite arcade style game on that console. Sadly not on the DS version. Get this, the monkeys are sprite based. Yes folks, the guys at Nintendo managed to support up to eight polygon-based karters in Mario Kart DS but Sega could not even manage one! To be fair however the game operates on a smooth framerate (but so did Mario Kart DS!).

The party games ranges from average to down right obsurd. Monkey mini golf was super easy and the popular monkey fight was pretty shit. When I play the Cube version of monkey fight with my mates, it was a hugely entertaining mini game that during many sessions became the main game. It was brilliant on the Cube. Not so much here. Then there is that fps monkey shooter. Seriously the most pathetic attempt at fps. Monkey race on the Cube was fun, here the designers forces you to race on the touchscreen using only the touchscreen for navigation (d-pad for shooting items). It was frustrating.

The main game was alright. I got through on my first sitting with the big monkey (I can't remember what it's called) whereas on the Cube it took me ages! It was obviously just too easy. Collecting bananas are not required but they do serve a purpose - mainly for every extra life bonuses. Soon I gathered a grand total of 15 life. Hah. This was going to be a piece of cake, that was until I reached the third final stage and lost seven of my (monkey) life. On the GameCube that would mean you need to restart the game but here, the game allowed me to press on. Soon I was done and had to stare at a long credit scene (which is sort of a mini game in itself). This unlock a couple more main games with slightly more difficult tracks but doesn't unlock additional party games.

I am so dissapointed. I really wanted to like it. The GCN's Monkey Ball was a classic party game where you sit down around the telly with three other mates and have a go at each other. The way the monkey would 'scream' when falling down into oblivion cracks me up even today. This sadly would not. Poor gameplay implementation. Shoddy graphics. Poor production value.

The inclusions of some of these mini games were obviously to inflate the value of the game, which comes at a recommended retail price of a ridiculous £30. Do not give in. If you do make sure the store has a refund policy like I did.


(Don't) buy now from Play-Asia or Amazon UK

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